Tag Archives: La Belle Epoque

Gustav Klimt – Valley of the Dolls

5 Mar

In a transitional period from his ‘erotic-symbolist Golden phase’ to his highly decorative and vibrant Japanese inspired phase, Klimt painted these gorgeous and aloof femme fatales: a subject so popular in fin de siecle. These two ladies are not mythical creatures, they look like real Viennese women and they’re impatient, they’re waiting, wrapped in their fur, adorned with the finest Art Nouveau jewellery, they’re glancing at you with disdain, they’re throwing darts in the eyes of their lovers.

1909-gustav-klimt-lady-with-hat-and-feather-boa-1909-4Gustav Klimt, Lady with Hat and Feather Boa, 1909

End of the first decade of the twentieth century brought some changes for Klimt; his gorgeous studies in gold with intricate details and stylised forms were slowly becoming passé. Rise of the Expressionism denoted the end of his ‘golden phase’. In his paintings such as ‘The Kiss’, Klimt painted his figures in shining yellow fabrics, decorated with tiny golden leaves, against luminous golden backgrounds, floating in a highly decorative world of his imagination. This excessive decorative element in his art prevented him from delving into psychological depth and achieving the emotional intensity of the portrayed figure, and that’s something that painters like Schiele and Kokoschka did very well . In 1909, Klimt travelled to Paris where he discovered the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Fauvists. These encounters with the new streams in the artistic world, as well as his friendship with the younger artist Schiele, all inspired him to reinvent his style.

La Belle Epoque fashion looks as if it was made for femme fatales – it’s exuberant, it’s glamorous; wide-brimmed hats with feathers, fur muffs, voluminous hairstyles, large choker necklaces, long flowing dresses with lace details… Klimt was very much in tune with the fashion of the day because his life companion Emilie Flöge happened to be a fashion designer. Klimt also helped in designing the dresses by making the patterns. In this transitional period, Klimt dressed his femme fatales not in gold but in lace and perfumes and jewels and rouge; he tamed them, he made them into fashionable little dolls who are impatiently waiting to be played with, to be admired. These creatures are vain and aloof but not as sinister and destructive as Franz Stuck’s dark female figures filled with lust and anxiety. Klimt also tamed his lust for excessive ornamentation by painting the background in one colour instead of the usual vibrant kaleidoscope of shapes and patterns.

Painting Lady with Hat and Feather Boa has a strangely dark colour palette, unusual for Klimt’s typical vibrant pinks, yellows and greens. The lady has an amazing face expression; her downward tilted eyes are fixated on something on her right which we can’t see, and her eyebrows are sharp and angry. Her face has been haunting me for weeks! And that peacock blue line on her hat, and the feathers, painted in swirling, near abstract motions. Her wild red hair, and gorgeous lips peeking from that feather boa, oh she’s a real femme fatale. You can imagine her getting out of the carriage, somewhere on the streets of Vienna, opening her parasol, blind to every eye she meets, with a gaze that says: ‘You’re not fit to polish my boots!’

1910-gustav-klimt-black-feature-hat-1910Gustav Klimt, Black Feather Hat (Lady with Feather Hat), 1910

On the other hand, Black Feather Hat (Lady with Feather Hat) is somewhat different in mood and style. Our redhead beauty above looks gorgeous and vivacious like Klimt’s women usually do, but this one looks a tad different – there’s a subtle nihilism in those white-grey shades, a hint of Egon Schiele and the fin de siecle nervousness. Look at her angular face and the way her hand is painted; it looks like something you’d see on Schiele’s paintings. Truth is, Schiele was initially inspired by Klimt, but Klimt also learner something from his young independent-minded pupil. Again we see this gorgeous La Belle Epoque fashion, and again this femme fatale is looking into the distance, we don’t know what occupied her attention, or whose face lingers on her mind.

Art Nouveau and 1960s: A Psychedelic Dream

6 Oct

I noticed that some sixties posters and film costumes have a strong Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite vibe, so naturally I turned to my art, culture and music bible when it comes to the Swinging Sixties – book ‘Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe’ by Julian Palacios, And here’s what I found. So, in this post we’ll take a look at the influence of Art Nouveau, Aesthetic movement and 19th century Orientalism on 1960s posters, designs, fashion and film costumes. I’ve also chosen some whimsical psychedelic tunes that I love and that fit very well with the mood of the post. Psychedelic Autumn, is it not?!

1967. Flower Power fashion, Photograph by Peter Knapp. Image scanned by Sweet Jane.

Flower Power fashion, Photograph by Peter Knapp, 1967, Image scanned by Sweet Jane

Donovan – Season of the Witch

Around 1966/67 there was a shift in style and mood. A change was in the air, as ‘vibrant coloured clothes and laughter’ filled the drab tube stations. Waning Mod fashion was quickly being replaced by a style more romantic and oriental. The new mood, exhibited not only in clothes but in posters, designs and music, found its inspiration in nostalgic reveries of the past and romantic daydreams about far East. Gone were the days of short skirts and fake eyelashes. Instead, young people – students, artists, musicians, groupies and dollies – traded their black and white geometrical outfits for caftans, vibrant coloured long dresses, long hair and less make up.

1960s fashion illustrations

1900. The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) - Alphonse Mucha

Do you notice the similarity in colours and composition between the sixties illustration (above) and Mucha’s painting ‘The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) from 1900.

Cosmic Sounds – The Zodiac

In late sixties, when Mod culture was starting to be looked upon as too commercial, and ‘futuristic themes gave way to exoticism, romanticism and nostalgia’ (1), young people started seeking answers and inspiration in paganism, mysticism and Eastern stuff: I Ching, Bhagavad Gita, The Golden Bough by James George Frazer which explores ‘magic, myths, Druids and Viking lore’, (p. 91), Ouija boards, tarot cards, meditation, vegetarianism and Hindu scriptures. Driven by LSD and hashish, they believed they were creating a new world, and so they delved into mysticism, found beauty in forgotten illustrations and paintings, whether it’s the sumptuous Klimt’s golden paintings or intricate William Morris wallpapers or William Blake’s drawings, laden with spirituality, hidden meanings and symbolism.

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1) Baby Doll Cosmetics 1968/ 2) Photo of Cleo de Merode, 1905; similar hairstyles.

Ravi Shankar – Sitar

A quote from the already mentioned book that sums it all:

The underground exhibited a curious nostalgia, unusual in people so young. Living in tattered Victorian flats, smoking dope and rummaging for antiques on the Portobello Road, the underground pillaged their cultural history. Part romantics and part vandals, as they pulled away from their parents’ world, they embraced the shadow of their grandparents’ Victoriana, torn between an idealised future and rose-tinted visions of the past.

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1) Flower Love, C.Keelan, 1967/ 2) Painting by Mucha

Just imagine that beautiful asceticism of the sixties; candle lit room with bare floor, mattress, incense sticks, Eastern fabrics for curtains, someone jamming on the guitar, girls in colourful clothes with flowers in their hair, resembling Mucha’s painting, laughter, optimism, mind expanding chatter… General mood of the time could be described as a combination of idealism, hedonism and optimism that eventually exceeded into decadence. Similar were the turn of the century vibes and the art movement that came to define the era – Art Nouveau.

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1) 1960s poster/ 2)Alphonse Mucha, ‘Job’, 1898

Art Nouveau demanded artistic freedom, art for art’s sake. Free the colour, the line, the beauty itself, the artists demanded. Similarly, in the sixties, after the drab post-war years were finally over and the economic situation was a bit better, artists and designers demanded the liberty of colour and design. Taking inspiration from the past, in a hope for a better artistic future, designers combined the refinement and elegance of Victorian and Edwardian art; floral prints, aestheticism and playful lines, and combined it with acid-laced colours such as magenta, aqua and bright yellow. Inspiration was often found in flamboyant turn of the century designs by Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley, Mucha and Georges de Feure.

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1) Poster for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at UFO, 16 and 23 June, by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, 1967, London (Michael English & Nigel Waymouth / 2) 1897-98. Journal Des Ventes, Georges de Feure, Color lithograph

As you can see above, poster for the UFO designed by Michael English and Nigel Waymouth who worked under the moniker ‘Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’, is truly Art Nouveau in style; whimsical lines, fluid shapes amalgamating one into another, female figure with flowers and different ornamental detailing in her hair and on her body, the whole mood very playful and fit for the new sixties spirit and yet beautiful aesthetically.

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Psychedelic poster, Pink Floyd, 15 March 1966

A sixties touch in designs is definitely colour which is often bright, contrasting and eye-catching, whereas the turn of the century style preferred more refined colouring, jewel-like colours being popular but always combined with subtler shades. Klimt, Mucha and Georges de Feure placed the attention on ornamentation, almost Baroque in its heaviness, whereas in the sixties, the designs were made for the tuned-in folk, and colour combination such as mauve and yellow, orange and lilac, red and green appealed to the crowd. Psychedelic flamboyancy owes it all to Art Nouveau (and LSD).

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’s posters rejected the stark formalism of graphic design in favour of referencing the 19th century illustrators William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley, with opium-laced flora and leaves drawn in interlaced patterns, hypnotic motifs and arabesques.“(p. 147)

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1) Barbra Streisand in Edwardian-inspired dress and hairstyle/ 2) Biba drawing

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1) Barbra Streisand /2) Edwardian illustration

The book also mentions illustrations by Arthur Rackham, a late Victorian and Edwardian era book illustrator who portrayed subjects from Nordic mythology to scenes from Shakespeare and Alice in Wonderland: “Art Nouveau posters by Alphonse Mucha and illustrated books by Arthur Rackham, dented silver carafes, spindly umbrellas with ivory handles, and chipped porcelain tea services formed a backdrop for an undulating mass along Portobello, Curving to Landbroke Grove…

And it seems to me that the sixties were one really long Mad Hatter’s tea party with great clothes, music and attitudes towards life and spirituality.

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1) Pattie Boyd and Twiggy for Vogue, 1969 / 2) Barbra Streisand in Edwardian dress

Influence of Art Nouveau, Pre-Raphaelites and Edwardian era can be seen not only in visual arts but also in fashion and film costumes. In 1990s there was a Jane Austen revival with films such as Sense and Sensibility. Well, films from the sixties and seventies are all about turn of the century; large hats decorated with roses, Art Nouveau interiors, Edwardian dresses in pastel colours with abundance of ruffles and lace… Some great examples of this aesthetic are films Hello, Dolly (1969) with Barbra Streisand, La Ronde (1964), Morgiana (1972), Viva Maria (1965) with Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, Baba Yaga (1973) etc.

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1) Catherine Deneuve in Edwardian dress / Photo of Emilie de Briand, 1900s

Even in everyday fashion, it’s hard not to see the influence. No, women didn’t return to tight corsets and uncomfortable lingerie, but some designers such as Barbara Hulanicki of Biba took the best of Victorian and Edwardian fashion and incorporated it in sixties style. Think of longer dresses (compared to Mary Quant’s mini dress that ruled the Swinging London), straw hats and lace details, floral prints, velvet, bishop sleeves, heavy dark coloured fabrics, longer hair often with curls (instead of the previous strict bob hair) or soft voluminous buns that were worn by Pattie Boyd and Twiggy for Vogue in 1969, and also Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot. Jane Birkin couldn’t resist the style as well, picture below:

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Jane Birkin in Edwardian dress with lace and ruffles, 1970

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1) Biba girl with Gibson Girl Hairstyle, 2) Illustration by Alphonse Mucha, 3) Biba illustration

Cleo de Merode: A Portrait of a Moon Child by Giovanni Boldini

27 Sep

September is nearing its end, it’s the 27th already, and it is also the birth date of Cleo de Merode, the famous French Belle Epoque dancer and beauty.

1901. Cleo de Merode by BoldiniGiovanni Boldini, Cleo de Merode, 1901

La Belle Epoque dancer and a famous beauty Cleo de Merode was born in Paris on 27 September 1875, in times just after the Franco-Prussian war, when the Impressionists were chatting, quarrelling and sketching in Parisian cafes. Her full name, Cléopatra Diane de Mérode, seems to have been made for a star.

It is my opinion that Cleo was equal in beauty and fame to Brigitte Bardot, a fellow French femme fatale. Both studied ballet from an early age, both possessed beauty and charm appealing to the age they lived in, both had numerous affairs interesting to the public eye, and they share a zodiac sign – Libra, Cleo being born on the 27th and Bardot on the 28th September. Although Brigitte Bardot acted in many films, her popularity throughout Europe in the Swinging Sixties was more due to her beauty, lifestyle and sex appeal. Likewise, beautiful Cleo – with oval face framed with masses of thick endlessly long and shiny raven black hair, almond shaped dark exotic eyes – often appeared on postcards, posters and playing cards. Men lusted after her, and women were envious of her bold fashion and lifestyle choices. One of it being the choice of hairstyle, which you’ll see in the photos below. Instead of wearing her hair up like every decent woman would do at the time, Cleo wore her hair down, decorated with a jewelled hairpiece. I found a similar look in a September 1968 drawing ‘Moon Shiny’ for the Baby Doll cosmetics. Whenever I see a photo of Cleo (and I do see it a lot since it’s on my bedroom wall) I instantly think of that sixties cosmetics add and that’s why I decided to put the ‘Moon Child’ in the title. For me, Cleo is the Moon Child of La Belle Epoque.

Her face, if not beautiful by today’s standards, is striking to say the least, more so in the photos than in the painting by Giovanni Boldini. Boldini was the painter of La Belle Epoque. He painted duchesses, courtesans-turned-actresses, beauties and really everyone who could afford his portrait services. Still, out of all his portraits, this one was stuck in my mind for a year now. I like Cleo’s dynamic pose, her sensual nude shoulder, her blue ring and the face expression, so confident, so aware of its own charms. Notice the typical Boldini brushstrokes: swift, dynamic – passionate expression of the moment of creation.

And now a bit of psychedelic music I’ve been listening to a lot this month, The Zodiac by Cosmic Sounds – Libra:The Flower Child for beautiful Cleo:

Libra listens and quietly sings,

gently peeling each yellow note.

 

Beauty lives within an eye of jade.

Venus contemplates a serene flower,

the color of an hour

of love.

1905. Cleo de Merode by NadarCleo de Merode by Nadar, 1905

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Baby Doll ‘Moon Shiny’, 1968

1895-cleo-de-merode-danseuse-et-icone-de-beaute-francaise-1875-1966-photographie-de-reutlinger-paris-1 1895-cleo-de-merode-danseuse-et-icone-de-beaute-francaise-1875-1966-photographie-de-reutlinger-paris

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1890s-cleo-de-merode-18 1890s-cleo-de-merode-11 1895-cleo-de-merode-photographiee-par-charles-ogerau 1903-cleo-de-merode

 

Reveries of Fin de Siecle

5 Jun

When boredom strikes the best thing to do is to immerse oneself into a completely different mood, place or time period. It is what I always do, and this time I chose fin de siecle.

1900s Charles Hoffbauer

Charles Hoffbauer, At the Ball, 1900s

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In the late 19th century, artists on both sides of the Channel began to question the social norms, and used art to display their radical, often perverse, opinions. They attacked capitalism and European imperialism, questioned the Victorian view on sexuality, promoted pure aestheticism, deemed Western society as hypocritical, delved into vampirism or simply longed for death. Creme de la creme of this new wave of literature includes novels such as A Rebours or Against Nature (1884) by Joris-Karl Huysmans, Oscar Wilde’s notorious The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1892) by Thomas Hardy, The Triumph of Death (1894) by Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), and finally, the beautiful, bleak and disturbing Torture Garden (1899) by Octave Mirbeau.

***

L’apollonide (House of Pleasures) 1

A scene from the film L’Apollonide or The House of Tolerance (2011); it’s set in a high-class brothel in Paris at the turn of the century

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In visual arts, the decadent, pessimistic and cynical spirit of ‘fin de siecle’ was demonstrated in a more exciting and vibrant manner and painters such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Felicien Rops, Childe Hassam, Edvard Munch, Jean-Louis Forain and many others produced paintings which satirised the state of society, at the same time giving it a certain dose of glamour which continues to fascinate people even today. Welcome to fin de siecle; the age of un-innocence, where darkness and sins lure from every corner, nightclubs offer nothing but loneliness, pessimism is the meal of the day, seedy salon lights conceal the gritty reality…

***

1890. Bal au Moulin Rouge - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1890

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The glamour and vividness of fin de siecle is perhaps best captured in paintings of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – the painter of cabarets, dancers, singers, circuses, and prostitutes. With miraculous ability to capture the moment, incredibly good memory, and proneness for sharp observation that spares nobody, Toulouse-Lautrec, sketched dancers, dandies and common folk at places such as Moulin Rouge; the Studio 54 of La Belle Epoque. Imagine him sitting by the small round table, dressed in a black suit, bowler hat and a pair of spectacles, perhaps in the company of the dancer Jane Avril, drinking absinthe and voraciously sketching. Moulin Rouge, the place where silk dresses rustle, glasses cling, and conversations go on through the night, reminds me of the place Morrissey sang about in the song There is a Light That Never Goes Out:

Take me out tonight
Where there’s music and there’s people
Who are young and alive…*

***

1885. At the Masked Ball by Jean-Louis Forain (French 1852 –1931)

Jean-Louis Forain (French 1852 –1931), At the Masked Ball, 1885

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I have always wanted to attend a masquerade ball; to be someone else for a night and talk to strangers without having to reveal my true identity, with each mask I could be a different person. Jean-Louis Forain painted a lavishing ‘masked ball scene’ where the lady in a purple-white dress, black opera gloves, a mask and a lace veil stands beside an unmasked gentleman, possibly her love interest for the night. The colour palette for the background, rich wine, sangria and crimson shades, is perfectly suitable for the spirit of the era. The scene itself evokes mystery. What are they talking about? Probably some tittle-tattle with a fin de siecle twist.

The grin on her face and her eyes, barely visible through the mask, suggest she’s gazing at something interesting in the background, while her ‘hunched-back, moustache, hand-in-his-pocket’ companion clutches her arm tightly. Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes is the music for the background of this scene. Roses on her dress remind me of the introduction of The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

1900s The Divine in Blue - Boldini

Giovanni Boldini, The Divine in Blue, early 1900s

***

Blue blue, electric blue, dynamic brushstrokes, femme fatale – it must be a work of the Italian painter Giovanni Boldini, famous for his turn of the century portraits of aristocratic ladies. This gorgeous, protruding shade of blue, and the lady’s half-hidden gaze make this portrait a perfect representative for the fin the siecle. Boldini’s portraits, along with some female figures in the novels I’ve mentioned above, all show that a new type of woman fascinated artists and society in fin de siecle. A lady who faints and screams like a virgin in Gothic novels simply wasn’t in tune with the times. ‘A New Woman’ stepped on the scene, and Boldini quickly resorted to his brush and a clear white canvas, to capture her charms and seductiveness.

A good example of a fin de siecle goddess is Clara from Torture Garden – a sadistic, intense, hysteric and beautiful redhead who gets pleasure from seeing tortures. She’s a bit extreme, but I like Mirbeau’s description of her gaze because I think Boldini’s ‘Divine in Blue’ has a gaze similarly pierced on the viewers:

While I was speaking and weeping, Miss Clara was looking fixedly at me. Oh, that look! Never, no, never should I forget the look that adorable woman fixed me with, an extraordinary look in which amazement was mingled with joy, pity and love – yes, love – as well as malice and irony.. And everything.. A look which pierced me through, penetrating into me and overwhelming me body and soul.

***

L’apollonide

L’apollonide (House of Pleasures) 2

A scene from the film L’Apollonide or The House of Tolerance (2011); it’s set in a high-class brothel in Paris at the turn of the century

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Another quote from Mirbeau’s Torture Garden, which is just as relevant today:

You’re obliged to pretend respect for people and institutions you think absurd. You live attached in a cowardly fashion to moral and social conventions you despise, condemn, and know lack all foundation. It is that permanent contradiction between your ideas and desires and all the dead formalities and vain pretenses of your civilization which makes you sad, troubled and unbalanced. In that intolerable conflict you lose all joy of life and all feeling of personality, because at every moment they suppress and restrain and check the free play of your powers. That’s the poisoned and mortal wound of the civilized world.

***

1895. Childe Hassam - Rainy Night

Childe Hassam, Rainy Night, 1895

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This gorgeous painting by Childe Hassam, Rainy Night, reminds me of a dialogue in Woody Allen’s marvellous film Midnight in Paris (2011), starring Owen Wilson as Gil and Rachel McAdams as Inez:

Gil: I don’t get here often enough, that’s the problem. Can you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain? Imagine this town in the ’20s. Paris in the ’20s, in the rain. The artists and writers!

Inez: Why does every city have to be in the rain? What’s wonderful about getting wet?” (Midnight in Paris, 2011, Woody Allen)

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the title of Hassam’s painting – Rainy Night – now, is there a better moment? I always feel such rapture and manic energy when it rains, and this painting evokes the same feelings. The scene shows people bustling in front of a nightclub, opening their umbrellas, ladies pulling up their skirts so they don’t get wet, while the golden lights and warmth and pleasure awaits them just behind the doors. What a contrast; a nightclub with all its vibrancy is a place were one can forget oneself by dancing or drinking to oblivion, and, on the outside, a dreamy velvety night over the big city. I’d forget the nightclub for a night as beautiful as this.

Hassam, as an Impressionist, tended to capture the moment, and he did it beautifully in this watercolour. He captured both the excitement and the tenderness of the night, the evening lights and gentle shades of blue that endlessly flickers and overflows into alluring yellow-golds and dark midnight blue that exceeds in onyx black.

***

Jane Asher in Charley's Aunt play

Jane Asher in the play ‘Charley’s Aunt’ (2012)

When I started writing this post I was bored beyond pain, but the decadent world of fin de siecle with all its paintings, film costumes, music and books strangely pulled me in. Cure for boredom became my current obsession.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – At the Moulin Rouge

16 Jan

Perhaps the most well-known and most detailed of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings, At the Moulin Rouge takes the viewer into a decadent and gaudy nightlife of Montmarte, with the glamour stripped away.

1892-95. At the Moulin Rouge by Henri Toulouse-LautrecHenri Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-95

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted this painting between 1892 and 1895. The scene depicts the infamous cabaret Moulin Rouge, which first opened just a few years earlier, in gloomy and misty October of 1889. Henri was instantly attracted to its vibrant atmosphere and energy. Imagine him, with his top hat and spectacles, sitting at the round table covered with white tablecloth, drinking cognac and drawing with charcoal, capturing movement of the dancers and their lavishing dresses, and people around him. These sketches were merely rudiments for the oil-on-canvas paintings that he later made. Moulin Rouge became his second home, and wellspring of inspiration because night life, dancers and cabaret became his main subject. There was something honest about Moulin Rouge. On one hand it was a bewitching, artificial, glamorous world, but on the other hand, it was more truthful, a straightforward place for the ‘working class heroes’, artists and eccentrics. Toulouse-Lautrec found beauty in places that other artists discarded. In spirit of Zola’s Naturalism, he relished in the aesthetics of ugliness, and meticulously studied faces of people and their individual characteristics. He stripped away the glamour of Moulin Rouge and the nightlife of Montmartre, and, at the same time painted scenes so evocative of La Belle Epoque Paris. His paintings posses a charm today still, and are entrancing for the modern viewers even though more than hundred years had passed since their creation.

(I suggest you to enlarge the painting by clicking on it)

Look at the painting. The first thing you notice is the crowd in the middle. Three men and two women are talking. They appear to be sharing the newest gossip, or discussing something important. The lady with the orange-coloured hair certainly stands out (possibly a can-can dancer Jane Avril). We see a part of her hand in black glove, perhaps she’s talking and gesticulating, but she turned her back on us so we can’t be sure. She’s dressed in a typical flamboyant La Belle Epoque manner, her wide sleeved dress and collar are trimmed with fur, her red hair is adorned with a black hat. There’s a bottle and a half full glass on the table. Across from her sits a man seen from the profile (Edouard Dujardin), clutching a walking stick and whispering something to a lady next to him (dancer La Macarona). She seems dizzy from alcohol, and there’s a sense of irony in her smile. The remaining two figures at the table are the photographer Paul Sescau and the vintner Maurice Guilbert.

Behind the crowd we see the artist himself, a short figure with a hat, walking with his cousin Gabriel Tapie de Celeyran, a tall and equally grotesque figure. In the backdrop, another can-can dancer, La Goulue and her friend are fixing their hairstyles in the mirror. The walls in the background are covered with mirrors which give the appearance of a flickering green surface, mottled with brown. Mirrors reflect the vibrancy that goes on in the scene. Even though this is a crowd scene, each figure is highly individualised. There’s a diagonal orange line in the lower left corner, a hint of Japanese Ukiyo-e style unsymmetrical compositions. The most interesting part of the painting is the lower right corner which shows a woman, an English dancer named May Milton whose face is garishly green from the lights below. Her bright yellow hair enhances the contrast. Again a hint of Ukiyo-e prints; the composition cuts her face and torso, which leaves us with a sense of incompleteness, and fires our imagination.

Kees van Dongen – ‘Painting is the most beautiful of lies’

18 Feb

Painting is the most beautiful of lies.’ – Kees van Dongen

1910s La Casati by Kees Van Dongen1918. La Casati by Kees Van Dongen

Kees van Dongen was a Dutch born French Fauvist painter famous for his sensual, somewhat gaudy female portrait, infallibly permeated with avant-garde and mystique. Out of all the Fauvists, Kees van Dongen’s work is the most appealing to me. His paintings have a great charisma for me; the decadency, the sultry face expressions of van Dongen’s ladies, palette of cold and vibrant colours, and those brilliant blue-greys, it’s all just enchanting to me. The close line between banality and glamour, clash between elegance and eroticism makes a powerful combination which draws the viewers in a world of false glamour and bleakness; a prelude to the Roaring twenties. Kees van Dongen’s female figures have often been described as ‘half drawing-room prostitute, half sidewalk princess‘.

1920. Kees van Dongen, La violoniste1920. Kees van Dongen, La violoniste

Kees van Dongen’s paintings have a strong erotic, modernly sensual vibe, which is not strange as he was a ‘ladies man‘. The combination of eroticism and vibrant colours made his paintings very popular in the First World World and the years immediately after the war. Still, some found his paintings too repetitive and his best work is considered to be done before 1920. Even at the age of fifteen, while he was still in the Netherlands, he used to visit the docs and sketch sailors from afar, and courtesans that gathered there too. In 1899. Kees left for Paris for good. He participated in the exhibition and Salon D’Autumne in 1905; the exhibition was controversial but it set a scene for a new art movement; the Fauvism.

Kees was one of the painters of the new generation of artists with avant-garde tendencies and an enormous elan for improvement. Main characteristics of Fauvism were vibrant colours and strong brush strokes; raw energy thrown on canvas, each brush stroke overwhelmed with emotions and passion. The combination of the two proved to be a particularly powerful one as the works of Fauvists are still valued today, and, although Kees van Dongen isn’t the most popular of them, his painting evoke the spirit of the time better than anyone elses, at least for me.

1920s Marchesa Casati by Kees van Dongen1917. The Bowl of Flowers – Kees van Dongen

This particular painting ‘The Bowl of Flowers‘, shown above, captivated me the most these past days. The painting shows a rich and eccentric heiress, Luisa Casati. She was an Italian heiress, muse, patron of arts, and in the first place an extravagant society hostess, a femme fatale who scandalised and delighted European high society for three decades. Luisa is the epitome of decadency and eccentricity and she lived her life with passion, relishing in abundance. It won’t come as a surprise that she commissioned many portraits of her to be painted from artists such as Giovanni Boldini, Romaine Brooks, and Kees van Dongen as well.

On this painting, Kees van Dongen used his tested technique of elongated figures, large eyes and strange vibrant yet mystical colours. As he was famous for portraying rich and fashionable ladies and society hostesses, he commented one time ‘The essential thing is to elongate the women and especially to make them slim. After that it just remains to enlarge their jewels. They are ravished.‘ I especially love the composition, how Luisa was placed on the far left instead of the usual central position common for portraits, and find it very interesting how she turned her back on the viewers, intriguing them even more. Her figure is elongated, her hands are thin, her waist is tiny, and that greenish skin colour, that sickly absinthe shade of green. Her pearl necklace, red high-heel shoes and thin flimsy shawl are here only to round off her mystical, sensuous and dreamy figure with all its decadency and avant-garde mood which is so appealing even today.

1920s Luisa Casati, Kees Van Dongen.1920s Luisa Casati, Kees Van Dongen

1913. Kees van Dongen - Tamara, The Painter’s Muse1913. Kees van Dongen – Tamara, The Painter’s Muse

1910. The Lace Hat, Kees van Dongen1910. The Lace Hat, Kees van Dongen

Kees van Dongen’s ‘Femme Fatales‘ live in their own world; trapped in avant-garde, bursting with beauty and modern kind of sensuality, living at the clash of glamour and decadence. They are mythical creatures, divine and garish at the same time, living at the verge of dreams and reality; they are the fruit of Kees van Dongen’s imagination, so wonderful, so timeless, and so surreal.

My ‘Midnight in Paris’

15 Jan

Do you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain? Imagine this town in the ’20s. Paris in the ’20s, in the rain. The artists and writers!

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

This film delighted, fascinated and inspired me beyond belief! It seeded a hundred ideas in my head, fired my imagination and the already existing nostalgia for the times that passed away. Woody Allen is a brilliant director, my mother’s favourite, and Owen Wilson is a very natural actor with appealing face expressions, gestures and voice; is there a better combination? The very idea of the movie, coined in Allen’s head, is very alluring to me; traveling through time to the ‘golden era‘; an era one considers one would be happier living in. I can’t count the times I’ve been daydreaming about another era, another place, oh, the characters I’ve created, and the places, just to escape the reality, the sad present that always leaves you tired, gloomy, washed out and full of longings that cannot be fulfilled.

For Gil, a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter who travels to Paris with his fiancee Inez and her posh parents, a ‘golden era’ of Paris are the 1920s. It’s a decade he dreams of; the bohemian atmosphere of Paris, strolls in the rain, warm light of street lamps, cafes, his literally idols… On the other hand, he’s living a life of bourgeois dulness, conflicted with financial success and self-fulfillment. Gil is a romantic and nostalgic soul, and the vivid Parisian night fires his wish to become a serious writer. Inez, his shallow, materialistic and posh bride-to-be, always turns eyes on his fantasies and dismisses his preference for bohemian lifestyle and pleasure over financial prosperity. She does not give him any support, she dismisses him being a serious artist in front of her pseudo-intellectual friend Paul, and in fact, I don’t see why are they even together. Gil is so idealistic, imaginative, ready to go and taste life, live for his writing and not his paycheck, whilst Inez is focused merely on their future house, expensive furniture and the biggest engagement ring.

1888. Cafe Terrace at Night -van Gogh

One night while strolling in Paris at midnight, Gil sees a mysterious antique vehicle. Dazed and confused, Gil jumps in and unknowingly travels back in time. The antique vehicle and his occupants, dazed from champagne and laughter, take him to the bohemian 1920s Paris where he meets Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Ernest Hemingway and Cole Porter. Gil is amazed by this event, but Inez naturally isn’t impressed. Gil returns again only to meet Gertrude Stein, Picasso and his charming mistress Adriana, played by the beautiful Marion Cotillard, along with Dali, Man Ray and Luis Bunuel; all the prominent figures of the era he admires. Dali is extraordinary. Upon seeing him in the movie I realised that all those painting could have been painted only by a person who behaves like that. Still, Gil finds out that he’s not the only person struck by nostalgia; Adriana says how the past has always had a great charisma for her. Both share a mutual feeling they’re born too late; count me in.

For me, La Belle Epoque Paris would have been perfect‘, says Adriana, ‘The whole sensibility; the street lamps, kiosks – the horse and carriages. And Maxim’s then.‘ Her ideal Paris is the ‘Moulin Rouge, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Can-Can’ Paris of the 1890s. It seems unbelievable to Gil for he adores the ’20s Paris but this leads to a greater dilemma; were all those eras really that ‘golden‘ and exciting, or, is the dissatisfaction with the present and the idealisation of the past an inevitable part of the human nature?

midnight in paris 3

Upon arriving in the ‘La Belle Epoque‘ Paris, Gil and Adriana meet Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge, and Degas and Gauguin who soon join them too. Degas and Gauguin were just talking about how that generation is empty and without imagination. They believe that living in the Renaissance would have been better. Gils and Adriana’s nostalgic natures are conflicted at that moment; to Gil, the 1920s Paris; Charleston, Hemingway, Dali is amazing; he adores it, but for Adriana, it’s just her present, as dull and boring as the present is.The two split up; Gil realises that the present is dissatisfying because life is dissatisfying, and decides to live in his own time, enjoying the advances of it, such as antibiotics.

On the other hand, Adriana’s flair and idealisation of the ‘Golden age‘ of Paris is much stronger and she decides to stay in the 1890s, at the beginning of the Belle Epoque. She was happy to escape the 1920s; a decade so romanticised and idealised by Gil. I think I would act the same way Adriana did; for me, the golden age were the 1960s; London, psychedelia, vividness of life, optimism, carefree atmosphere, living for the moment, and that sweet naivety long lost in today’s cynical and opportunistic society,  integrity was valued back then. That’s the reason I named this post ‘My Midnight in Paris‘; I deeply sympathise with Gil and I respect his final decision. I often wonder whether my visions of the past are idealised as well, but you know what, I don’t care; if I give up my romantic and naive daydreams, then what is left of life?

Gil returned to the present, and, on a midnight stroll across the Seine at midnight, he meets Gabrielle, an antiques dealer he had met earlier. The two walk in the rain, she doesn’t mind getting wet, for ‘Paris is the most beautiful in the rain.‘And what isn’t?

Rain is the most poetic thing in nature; it is the sky’s song of tranquility and serenity.